Republicans rush to help shape Trump’s infrastructure plan

Republicans rush to help shape Trump’s infrastructure plan
© Getty

Lawmakers are scrambling to help shape President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal as the administration considers speeding up its timetable for the legislative package.

Dozens of Republican lawmakers on Wednesday offered their ideas to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao about the emerging plan to repair U.S. roads, bridges and airports, a key campaign promise for Trump.

Following a defeat on healthcare reform, Chao said the infrastructure measure could now be unveiled as soon as next month — a major shift from the administration’s initial goal of fall.

“It’s music to my ears,” said Rep. Lou BarlettaLouis (Lou) James BarlettaDems look to use Moore against GOP Democrats expand House map after election victories GOP Senate hopefuls reluctant to back McConnell as leader MORE (R-Pa.), who was a member of Trump’s transition team. “[Trump] doesn’t wait very long. He’s moving forward quickly, and I think Congress needs to begin to run instead of skipping.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee members say they are eager to focus on infrastructure spending. Barletta said the panel would hold an initial hearing on the proposal for members to help offer input on the bill.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Dems push for more money for opioid fight MORE (S.D.), the Senate’s No. 3 Republican and chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said the upper chamber would be willing to move on Trump’s legislative priorities in whatever order they come.

“We’ll be willing to process whatever they send us, and we’ll do it in a timely way,” Thune said. “And if it precedes tax reform, then we’ll take it in order. But I think a lot of this is just going to be driven by when the administration is ready to submit and present their proposal.”

 Chao said during a town hall event at the White House on Tuesday that the administration is still in the process of crafting a $1 trillion bill that “will probably be in May or late May.”

The proposal wasn’t expected to be considered until much later in the year, after Congress tackled healthcare and tax reform. But since the House failed to move forward on ObamaCare repeal last month, some have predicted that the timeline for priorities such as infrastructure may be accelerated.

Chao touted the administration’s plan to the House GOP conference during an hourlong meeting on Wednesday attended by dozens of lawmakers.

“She talked about the infrastructure bill and how important it is to the president. Forty-five members were there asking lots of great questions,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.).

Democrats expressed frustration at being excluded from the meeting, which was part of an ongoing effort by the House GOP caucus to introduce members to Trump’s Cabinet.

Citing a “collaborative effort,” Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) called for Chao to be invited to address the full transportation panel. 

“Maybe then they wouldn’t have the problems they had with the healthcare bill,” she said.

Republicans at Wednesday’s meeting made their own pitch to Chao about what should be targeted in the bill, according to members who attended the meeting.

“It was a bunch of people asking questions, and they were very parochial questions about specific things in their districts,” said Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.).

Lawmakers brought up projects such as a decaying bridge in Ohio, an oft-criticized high-speed rail project in California and an airport in American Samoa without an air traffic control tower.

Others voiced complaints about the Army Corps of Engineers and how long it takes for projects to get approved for a permit — an issue that Trump has vowed to address in his bill.

There will likely be a wide range of infrastructure interests competing for a slice of the funding pie, which Trump said could top $1 trillion.

Chao has said the legislation could include money for energy, water, broadband and veterans hospitals, while Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has maintained that it could include funding for housing, according to The Washington Post.

Trump has also floated the idea of giving projects a 90-day deadline to get off the ground in order to receive any funding.

“We’re going to be very strong that it has to be spent on shovels, not on other programs,” Trump said Tuesday. “If you have a job that you can’t start within 90 days, we’re not going to give you the money for it.”

But Shuster said key details of the measure, such as how to pay for it and how to best leverage private-sector dollars, still need to be worked out.

Some lawmakers are pressing Trump to use international tax reform to pay for infrastructure upgrades.

Reps. John Delaney (D-Md.), Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoRichard Gere welcomes lawmakers' words of support for Tibet Records show Papadopoulos frequently acted as Trump campaign rep Freedom Caucus chairman courts Dems on tax reform MORE (R-Fla.) and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) have presented their ideas to the administration. The trio recently introduced legislation aimed at tapping into cash stored overseas and using that revenue to revitalize the country’s infrastructure.

“I’ve shared this with [Vice President] Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence allies worried he'll be called to answer questions from Mueller: report Trump thought it was ‘low class’ for Pence to bring pets to VP residence: report Pence told RNC he could replace Trump on ticket after 'Access Hollywood' tape came out: report MORE and said these are the things we have,” Yoho told reporters. “And Mike Pence says, ‘You know what, you’ve brought this up to me before. We’re seriously looking at it.’ ”

But questions remain over whether Trump’s proposal would be able to move quickly through Congress, where long-term funding solutions for infrastructure have long remained elusive.

Infrastructure could also bump up against other priorities if the bill is released in the spring. Lawmakers need to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration before its legal authority expires in September, while tax reform and healthcare may still be on table.

“From a transportation end, it’s easy. There’s bipartisan support for improving infrastructure. Where we always get into trouble is how do we pay for it,” said Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdConyers attorney: Congressman won't pay settlement back because it was 'cleared' Farenthold accuser: 'It's been a tough road’ Accuser says GOP lawmaker 'blackballed' her from finding another job after settling sexual harassment suit MORE (R-Texas). “On the Transportation Committee, there’s going to be no problem. I’m glad I’m not on the Ways and Means Committee dealing with that.”